PHILIPPIANS: Christ For The Christian

By David Anderson

The Lord Jesus Christ totally filled Paul’s life to the exclusion of everything else (Phil. 1:21). The Epistle to the Philippians, shows he was occupied with Christ and “the things which are of Christ Jesus” (2:21 NKJV). The apostle encouraged the church in Philippi: “Brethren, join in following my example, and … so walk, as you have [me] for a pattern” (3:17). He desired that we believers be heavenly-minded because the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven, and from there we eagerly wait for the Savior (vv.20-21). Paul wanted these believers and us to live the Christian life as he did.

The apostle wrote this letter as a bondslave of Christ Jesus, addressing his letter “to all the saints … in Philippi” (1:1) – none was excluded. Therefore any believer who adopts the same mature attitude as Paul (consider 3:15-17) can experience Christ in full throughout his or her life. With this in view, I will consider Philippians using the title “Christ For The Christian” in three ways.

1. The Christian And Christ
In each chapter Paul stated what “Christ for the Christian” means in practice:

  • “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21).
  • “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5).
  • “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me … I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:12,14).
  • “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13).

Paul used one word, “Christ,” to describe his reason for living, “For to me to live Christ” (literally, 1:21). He desired that Christ would be magnified in his body, whether it was by the way he lived or died for his Lord (1:20). He wanted that ultimate experience of Christ, which involved a complete denial of himself and a thorough knowledge of Him throughout his entire life, and even through death and resurrection (3:7-12). Christ magnified was Paul’s motive for living. Christ was his object and aim in all, whether in life or death. In Him he discovered the model of self-effacement – the perfect example of humility – and he desired to have that same mind (2:5). Christ was the mark toward which he constantly reached throughout his life on earth (3:14). He saw Christ to be his ultimate prize in heaven. But Christ was also the secret of his inner strength for serving Him (4:13), the might for every step he took on his journey heavenward.

2. The Christian And Christian Fellowship
Paul experienced real Christian fellowship with the Philippian church. He called them “my beloved” (2:12, 4:1). The apostle held them in his heart (1:3,7), for he was fully aware that God was at work in their lives (1:6, 2:13). They were his “joy and crown” (4:1) in the coming “day of Christ” (1:10, 2:16). Therefore he prayed that they would abound in love, which increased by spiritual knowledge and discernment – so they would appreciate and approve the excellent things of Christianity (1:9-10). He was confident that his God would supply all their “need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (4:19).

3. The Christian And The Gospel
The Person Of The Gospel. Philippians 1:12-18 shows how important the gospel1 and its propagation, or spreading from person to person, were to Paul. Proclaiming Christ was central to Paul’s life as a Christian. In essence the gospel is the person who is preached – it is “the gospel of Christ” (1:27). The gospel continues to be the primary means by which the Lord Jesus is made known throughout the world (2:9-10; consider Ps. 135:13). Whenever anyone accepts Him as Savior and Lord, Christ is exalted and God the Father receives glory (Phil. 2:11).

The Word Of The Gospel. As “lights in the world” believers must “hold forth the word of life” (2:16 JND) and boldly and courageously speak “the word of God” (1:14). The word of the gospel is God’s message to “a crooked and perverse generation” (2:15 NKJV). It has both content and substance (1 Cor. 15:1-4), and it is elsewhere described as “the message [word, esv] of the cross” about “Christ crucified” (1:18,23). The word of the gospel is used by God to convert people to Christ (1 Pet. 1:23,25).

The Beginning Of The Gospel. The message of salvation through Christ alone was preached by the apostles in the initial days of Christianity, which Paul called “the beginning of the gospel” (Phil. 4:15). In Acts there is a full record of those early days,2 including those before Paul’s missionary activities. Some of the means by which we present the gospel today may have changed, but it is essential for us to remain faithful and continue to present the plain facts of the message from the Word of God. Just as in the beginning, today’s Christians are sent by God to preach the word of Christ, so people will hear about Him and by faith obey the word (Rom. 10:14-17).

The Faith Of The Gospel. In Philippians 1:27 the substance of the gospel is called “the faith of the gospel,” that is the whole truth of the gospel as revealed in the doctrines of the New Testament letters, such as Romans. Nowadays we would describe the complete truth of Christianity as “the faith,” of which “the faith of the gospel” is an essential and foundational part.

The Furtherance Of The Gospel. The work of God has advanced since those first days (see Acts 1:8, 6:7, 12:24, 19:20), the Lord Jesus having commissioned “the furtherance of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Starting at Jerusalem, there was a striking forward into Judea and Samaria before the gospel spread throughout the whole habitable world to the farthest away place (Acts 1:8; Col. 1:6,23).

Fellowship In The Gospel. Paul especially appreciated the Philippians’ “fellowship in the gospel” (1:5) – their partnership in his evangelistic work. They were joint-workers with him by prayer (vv.5,19) and practical support in sending financial help and gifts (4:14-18). In Philippians 1:7, Paul stated three ways in which they had joint participation with him in the gospel:

  • In his imprisonment for the gospel. They had not abandoned him to his incarceration in Rome but remained true to their Lord and continued to pray for Paul (1:19). It was as though they were there in prison with him (consider Phile. 13; Heb. 13:3).
  • In the defense of the gospel. Like Paul, who always stood for and fought for the gospel, they remained loyal defenders of the faith despite opposition and persecution. Perhaps they had learned how to defend the faith from Paul’s conduct when he first brought the gospel to them (Acts 16).
  • In the confirmation of the gospel. He particularly remembered those who had physically stood alongside him and actually strove with him in his labors. One of them is addressed as “true companion” (4:3) or “true yokefellow” (KJV), that is, “loyal Synzygus; Greek the yoke-fellow” (ESV footnote). W. E. Vine stated that this was most probably his name,3 and therefore so aptly described their joint effort in gospel work. Paul knew the reality of Christ in his own life, but he remembered that all these Philippians also gave confirmation and testimony to the saving power of Christ. He urged the Philippians to continue to stand firm with singleness of mind because this too was a powerful witness to the continuing effectiveness of the gospel (1:27).

The Service And Servants Of The Gospel. Paul especially valued the fellowship of his son in the faith, Timothy, who was an apprentice to him from the middle of his second missionary journey (Acts 16:3). By the time Paul wrote to the Philippians, Timothy was of proven worth, “he served with [Paul] in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22 ESV). He and the others named in Philippians 4:2-3 not only had been Paul’s trusted co-workers, they also had personally enslaved (Greek for “served”) themselves to the work of the gospel. This suggests that they were subject to their Master’s will and that they applied themselves to the task of spreading the gospel.

Our Lives And The Gospel. Paul’s exhortation, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27), is very challenging! Philippi was a Roman colony and thus these believers would readily understand Paul’s exhortation that they should live as citizens of heaven. Also, “worthy” means that the totality of my life must “balance” with the gospel! This is the practical meaning of “the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7). First we need to know the person of the gospel – the Lord Jesus Christ – and understand the faith of the gospel. Currently much is made of training in evangelism, but we can study the beginning and furtherance of the gospel in our Bibles and thereby be equipped servants of the gospel. We can join in fellowship in the gospel with like-minded believers and work together with them in the task of spreading it either by prayer or by giving practical support and help. “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Lk. 10:2 NKJV).

1. “Gospel” occurs in 1:5,7,12,14,17,27, 2:22, 4:3,15.
2. However, it also includes the Gospels – see Heb. 2:3; Acts 10:36.
3. Greek name Synzygus, Yoke-Fellow, W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.